Explainers

Inside the house of tomorrow: Smart home explained

The future is now

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Ten years ago, smart homes belonged to the realm of science fiction. Back then, you would only see connected smart devices in TV shows like Black Mirror, rather than in cons and tradeshows.

Today, a connected household isn’t just a working theory; it’s already a reality pushed by the world’s leading tech brands. Common, everyday tasks can now be automated by artificial intelligence or simplified through voice commands.

We are living in a world where every device has a voice, whether it’s Alexa, Siri, Cortana, or the Google Assistant. While some anticipate the curiosities that the future will bring, some fear the rapid changes that a house from the future beckons.

Regardless of how you might feel about the future of futuristic abodes, living in one can still be a mystery, especially for the everyday homeowner. There are layers of tech to wade through. As with every house hunt, it’s time to take a tour of the house of tomorrow before you inevitably live in one.

Garage: letting the right one in

As you pull up into the driveway with your electric car, the garage door automatically opens to the sound of your voice. The lights go on to help you park. You climb out of the car and hook it up to the charging station on the wall.

As you head to the front door, the garage door closes behind you. The smart camera above the door detects who you are and notifies your family that you’ve arrived. The locks disengage, and you enter.

The most common elements of a smart home are those seen from the outside. If you live within a gated community, you’ve seen automatic gates open and close by themselves. You might’ve also seen electric vehicles roaming the streets already. They may be outside the house, but these machines have become essential to the smart home ecosystem. They’ve become extensions of your smart house that you can take with you wherever.

Even as you exit your garage, other smart devices are being fitted around your house. The Nest Cam IQ, for example, is a smart security camera that adds an extra oomph in security. It can record in HD, listen in on conversations, and detect familiar faces.

Having an integrated smart security system allows you to enter and exit your home without fussing with keychains and padlocks.

Living room: command center

Entering your house, you kiss your spouse hello, kick off your shoes, and watch a bit of TV before dinner. Just as you plop down onto your couch, you remember that your house security is still disabled. You ask Alexa to turn it on. You rest easy while watching the latest House of Cards episode.

The evolution of the smart home began in earnest with the living room. As it was the central hub of the entire house, the living room also became the center for the Internet of Things. The new smart home ecosystem coordinated everything from the lights to the TV to the security system — right from the comforts of your sofa.

Who hasn’t heard of a smart TV? The industry’s newest TVs integrate the internet to build a more comprehensive entertainment experience. From a device that connects to mere broadcast stations, the TV evolved to access a vast catalog of online entertainment. You could watch Netflix while searching for your favorite recipes on Google. The smart TV became the desktop of your living room.

As people spent more time interacting with their TVs, smart devices started installing themselves around the luxuries of the living room. While you’re watching a movie, you can change everything from the temperature to the lights without standing up or pausing the programming.

The Philips Hue, for example, takes control of your house’s lighting system. That’s not all. The smart bulb automates your lights’ operation for both when you’re in and out of the house. It can even change a room’s hue to set the mood.

Another example is the Ecobee 3 smart thermostat. The automated system optimizes the temperature based on your activity inside and on the temperature outside. Further, it also makes your energy usage more efficient.

Kitchen: robots get hungry, too

As you open your fridge, a voice lists down the food you have in stock. Knowing how much pasta and olive oil you have left, the voice assistant suggests pesto for dinner. You agree. Alexa, then, preheats the oven for the pasta and preps your dishwasher for the oily dishes later.

Despite the oodles of devices inside a kitchen, tech makers are only starting to optimize the room for the smart home. LG, for example, launched a series of devices that assist you even before you start preparing the dish.

Their smart refrigerator catalogs the supplies you have left. It alerts you when you’re short of ingredients and recommends recipes based on what’s inside. Plus, it even has its own entertainment system to get your groove on while you cook.

After you gather all the ingredients, the system passes the recipe down to the appliances you’ll need. A smart oven preheats to fit the temperature you need; a smart dishwasher customizes its spin cycles to wash dishes optimally.

Bedroom: the last frontier

The day is over. Before you drift off to sleep, you remember to charge your devices — iPhone X, Apple Watch — on the wireless charging stand. You set Google Home to wake you up at 7am by playing a Rihanna song.

The bedroom is the last frontier of the home of tomorrow. The bed is the last sanctuary from a life taken over by tech. That, however, won’t last. As early as now, the Internet of Things follows you even to the bedroom.

Wireless charging stations, smart thermostat panels, and security panels pervade our bedrooms, allowing us easy access to how our house works before we call it a night. A smart bed is still forthcoming, but technology is already reaching out before it inevitably comes.

With Google Home and Amazon Echo, voice assistants now lull us to sleep and wake us up in the morning. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana will become the first and last voices we hear every day. The eerily human voice assistants have already lent their voices to every device in our home.

It’s only a matter of time before our house becomes a machine itself. Whether you embrace the future or shun it, technology will always find a way to make our lives easier. But don’t worry when it comes. All you’ll hear is the soothing voice of Alexa, asking how you want your meat cooked.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

Explainers

DITO is all-in for the next generation of mobile connectivity

But what do they mean by this, exactly?

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For as long as most Filipinos can remember, the Philippines has always had only two major mobile networks that they could choose from. This made the choice of network provider a bit simple but very limited for consumers. Recently, however, an actual third player came into the picture in the form of DITO Telecommunity.

While availability started back in March, DITO is making strides in terms of the services it’s offering. Currently, they are available in over 650 cities and municipalities across the country. Also, for the most part, these offers consist of high-speed data plans at an affordable rate. Where they want you to shift your attention to, however, is that their network also supports 5G connectivity. In their words, it’s the “next-gen technology” they want their consumers to experience.

So, what is this “next-gen technology” that they’re going on about?

Let’s review: the essence of 5G

The biggest thing about DITO’s new network service is their claim to bring “the real 5G” to the Philippines, at least according to DITO CTO Retired Major General Rodolfo Santiago. We had already talked about the whole 5G experience and what it brings to the table, so let’s not get into it too much. Basically, 5G serves as the next big thing in mobile connectivity, promising faster connections and wider coverage.

As such, telecommunication companies are opting-in to provide just that to its consumer base. However, like most new technologies, there are obstacles in the way that makes fast mobile data a little impossible to achieve. Well, DITO pretty much has that covered with what they call their world-class digital infrastructure.

Standing alone, or not standing alone?

While competitors began to introduce 5G to its consumers earlier, what they initially deployed was 5G non-standalone (NSA) network. This means that their 5G architecture is assisted by their existing 4G infrastructure. DITO, on the other hand, began developing their 5G standalone (SA) network since their rollout in 2019. 

In theory, 5G standalone networks like DITO provides super-fast transmission speeds with ultra-low latency, which is suitable for most enterprises. Per its namesake, it relies heavily on its own 5G infrastructure instead of using its legacy 4G infrastructure as a jump-off point. In turn, DITO users will experience true 5G speeds every time they connect to the internet through mobile data. In other words, 5G standalone is “true 5G”.

With 5G standalone, DITO unlocks the “true 5G” in accommodating what 4G networks previously couldn’t. While it is building on what 4G connectivity initially offered, over time, it will eventually solidify itself as the standard for mobile connectivity.

The true goal for DITO

“Our goal has been to allow Filipinos to experience next-generation technology and we in DITO are excited to bring 5G to more areas in the country to truly transform digital connectivity and online interactions,” added DITO Chief Technology Officer Rodolfo Santiago.

For DITO, this is the “breakthrough connectivity” they want to bring to the general public. Apart from achieving greater mobile data speeds, each DITO SIM gives users access to more enhanced versions of innovations that are already widely available since the introduction of 4G. Two of which are VoLTE and ViLTE, the latter of which is something DITO proudly boasts.

Their next-gen offer: VoLTE and ViLTE

What exactly are these two innovations they’re enhancing with their services? Let’s start with VoLTE, mostly because this isn’t necessarily something new for most people. Simply put, Voice over LTE or VoLTE allows users to make voice calls without compromising mobile data speed. Normally, it’s an either-neither thing, wherein one use case will be a priority.

What is new is ViLTE, or as DITO calls it: Video over LTE, which works the same way as VoLTE but for video calls. In essence, users can make video calls from your device without the need for a video calling app. Also, these video calls are charged with the same rates as a normal voice call. However, this feature is currently limited to video calls between DITO subscribers.

Bringing it all together, DITO offers a package with faster connections and greater savings considering the innovations. It’s not something that a lot of other telcos are offering; for DITO, however, the experience doesn’t stop there.

Any phone will do, but what exactly do you need?

Upon its early availability, DITO released a list of compatible phones that supposedly bring out the telco’s best features. Like most providers, the DITO SIM works with any smartphone, 5G or not, for the bare minimum features like calling, texting, and mobile data. To experience “the real 5G,” however, they want a 5G device with a more standalone architecture.

For context, the 5G smartphones on this list come with either 5G NSA or 5G SA. The main difference between the two is, well, non-standalone architecture isn’t necessarily true 5G; rather, it is applying 5G to a 4G network. Meanwhile, 5G SA is its own 5G network, built and connected to 5G network bases to deliver higher speeds with lower latency than 4G.

In DITO’s case, only a handful of smartphones actually support the 5G SA architecture, which is where their 5G capabilities are built on. Currently, they are continuously exploring avenues to expand their network in order to bring “the real 5G” to more Filipinos, provided they have a supported smartphone. Again, these kinds of smartphones are a bit pricey, but to experience “the real 5G,” it’s not a bad trade-off.

The future is DITO (here)?

DITO enters the scene with the goal of bringing the next big thing in telecommunications, and their offer hinges on it. In their eyes, the promise of faster internet and wider coverage is already here, and it’s just a matter of getting people to opt-in. With its latest innovations, DITO provides a more enhanced mobile data experience.

To fully experience the next generation of technology, users must be properly equipped to wield such power. There’s a reason that DITO put out a device compatibility list upon initial launch: to provide users the best possible experience with all the features they have. Sure, any device will work with the DITO SIM, but certain devices give you that best experience.

Is it time to make the switch to the next-gen? In DITO’s eyes, the answer is simple and they’re waiting for people to join them.


This feature is a collaboration between GadgetMatch and DITO Philippines.

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Explainers

The secrets behind iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Together with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing as well as their Human Interface Designer

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For the first time ever, we had a three-way interview with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance as well as one of their leading Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari. If you’re not starstruck enough, both of them appeared in Apple’s September 2021 Keynote event!

Other than new camera sensors, newer camera features are also found on the new iPhone 13 Series. One of those is the new Cinematic Mode.

If you’ve watched some of our latest iPhone videos including the Sierra Blue iPhone 12 Pro Max unboxing, we’ve let you take a sneak peek on that new video mode.

We’re not gonna lie, it’s one amazing camera feature Apple has managed to deliver.

But what are the secrets behind it? And are you curious how technicalities work?

Watch our 16-minute interview with the Apple executives explaining why Cinematic Mode is the next big thing in mobile videography.

 

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How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

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Illustrations by Kris Blanco

Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

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